Flying in the business cabin of an aircraft is a dream for many 🙂
Well, perhaps the word ‘dream’ is a little strong!
The dream is the travel itself rather, exploring unknown places, finding yourself in a completely new environment, a new culture, meeting new people.
But the great thing about flying business, what creates all the excitement, is that it transforms the hassle of finding yourself squeezed in economy for many hours, into an anticipated, exciting, and more importantly as we will find out: into a tasty experience of wine and food.
So, what is it like to fly in the business class of an important international airline?
To find out, and share the experience with you dear readers, I flew with Air France from Paris to New York in the business cabin.
As the national airline of the biggest wine-producing country in the world, Air France has a strong emphasis on providing a quality onboard wine experience. As they’re French too, they also pay attention to their food, aiming at bringing gastronomy aboard their aircraft.
I had to learn more, and see for myself!
When I asked the Airline if I could cover their business experience, they keenly accepted, demonstrating 1) their willingness to communicate about their food and wine onboard service, AND 2) what I thought was a remarkable openness for showing me (and you) what it’s all about, in the real life.
I’ve gathered below short videos in the form of Tweets so you can visualize the experience even better.
Air France’s Business Class Wine & Food Experience
So first, you’re welcomed with a nice glass of Champagne, served by a smiley flight attendant; it’s always nice!
— Julien Miquel #Wine (@JMiquelWine) May 10, 2017
The seats in business are rather vast when you’re used to economy.
In total, you probably have two or three times more space for yourself than a regular seat. That’s what you need when you have a job to do while flying, like writing an interesting blog post about what it’s like to fly in business.
— Julien Miquel #Wine (@JMiquelWine) May 12, 2017
The only Champagne on board (not that I’m complaining that there was only one, so long as it’s a good one!) was Taittinger Brut Reserve, the non-vintage cuvée by one of the most famous of Champagne houses.
This is a crisp and citrusy bubbly with an emphasis on minerality and acidity, typical of the house’s style. No overwhelming leesy or nutty flavors in here, it’s all about elegance and freshness. A 90/100-point Champagne. Not bad for a starter!
Champagne Is Even Better with Food
Have you ever tried Champagne with cashew nuts?
I have to admit I had never quite paid attention to this combination before, and never noticed it worked very well together.
Taittinger and cashews is actually quite something.
The bubbly also paired well with the second mise en bouche (French name for the little starter before the entrée) offered to wake up the taste buds before lunch: a nice smoky duck breast with asparagus and orange peel sauce. Very tasty, and very nice with Champagne!
— Julien Miquel #Wine (@JMiquelWine) May 11, 2017
Tasty White Wines & Entrées
Not only is there starters on the business class menu, but there are also 2 entrée dishes, and tasty ones at that!
I thought I would test these against the selection of white wines, 2 of them as well.
The 2014 Albert Bichot Domaine Long-Depaquit Chablis, the Chardonnay
This is a very textural and expressive Chablis Chardonnay. With a crisp and citrusy acidity.
More importantly, it is filled with a wealth of nutty and buttery notes from aging on lees, but never does it feel heavy. It’s crisp and vibrant rather, although complex and deep at the same time. A truly excellent example of Chablis wine. 91/100 pts.
It’s not that this Chardonnay could not satisfy most demanding palates, but I guess if there are ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) people aboard Air France’s aircraft fleet, they have to offer something else! Or simply offer more variety and diversity.
More wine options is always better.
It is nice indeed that Air France offers another white, one that contrasts a fair bit with the Chardonnay in style, although they were both equally tasty. The second white wine option was a French Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire valley.
2014 Fournier Pere et Fils ‘Les Deux Cailloux’ Pouilly-Fumé, the Sauvignon Blanc
Was it the effect of altitude? Or was it because this was my 3d wine tasting in a row at 30,000 feet and my brain was getting enthusiastic?
But I was very impressed with this Sauvignon Blanc. More even indeed than by the Pouilly-Fuissé I had had in the airport lounge a couple of hours before (read the lounge experience further below), although it’s obviously a different grape variety.
This cuvée by Fournier, although a little shy to the nose (at least on an airplane), proves to be absolutely bursting with grapefruit and passion fruit flavors, also with vegetal gooseberry and touches of grassiness. Dry and crisp, the finish brings in savory phenolics that make the bright acidic backbone shine strongly till the end, especially with food. Score: 91/100
Apricot Foie Gras & Poached Schrimps
These two tasty white wines were paired with apricot-glazed foie gras, and poached schrimps on a bed of tuna with pickled cucumbers, as well as a little pine nuts green salad, just for some little greens. A nice touch.
See what the dishes and presentation looks like with the tweet below:
— Julien Miquel #Wine (@JMiquelWine) May 9, 2017
Both dishes were genuinely very tasty, bursting in flavors, matching well with the wines.
Reds on Main
You can choose between 3 or 4 varied main dishes in business, all signed off for Air France by Michelin-starred chef Michel Roth.
Poultry glazed with citrus honey and rare peppers, or Pollack fish in its mussel sauce with confit Menton lemon zest to name a couple of fancily-named but appetizing options.
I went for some red meat rather, for a better pairing with the reds: lamb stew in its tomato and wine sauce, with side vegetables.
— Julien Miquel #Wine (@JMiquelWine) May 12, 2017
The lamb, as well as the side vegetable were absolutely tender and succulent, and a triumph of a sauce bursting with Mediterranean herbs flavors.
What to drink with Lamb on an Airplane?
Well! A French airline has to have some Bordeaux on the wine list. The one offered was:
2012 Chateau Paloumey, a Cru Bourgeois from Haut-Medoc
This is a rather fruit-driven Médoc wine, that smells and tastes like fresh strawberry combined with dark cherry. Don’t get me wrong, it is also slightly spicy, and filled with the typical wood ashes and burnt wood typical of Medoc Cabernet Sauvignon. Plenty of personality then, as well as indeed a Cabernet-oriented wine also including touches of bell pepper, but discrete and pleasant ones. Mid-body and mid-tannins, it is smooth and balanced. Easy to approach and enjoy, with all the characteristics we like in a Médoc. Score: 89+/100
The Cheese Platter
I have to admit, being a Frenchman (and yes, we do like our stinky cheese), I found the onboard cheese a little bland!
Not your completely tasteless cheeses, and I suppose many would have found these rather good and tasty. But after having traveled through such tasty and quite sophisticated and pronounced flavors with all the previous courses, the cheese felt a little like a letdown in comparison.
That said, I don’t blame Air France for not bringing out the stinky Camembert, or any other stinky cheese aboard their aircrafts, even (or perhaps especially!) in business class!
So, in the end, I might have news for you: if you’re after a real tasty (and/or stinky) cheese experience, you might actually have to go to France, not just fly with Air France 😉
That said, with a good glass of wine, the flavor of these cheeses was actually brought up pretty nicely by the fine fermented grape juice.
Even an average cheese becomes a success with good wine!
Pairing Wine & Cheese
To match the flying cheeses, was a spicy Chateauneuf by a respected Rhone valley winery:
2014 Ogier Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Eyglieres, Rhône
A relatively light Châteauneuf. Very spicy, and rather upfront fruity, it’s filled with a wealth of green and black pepper flavors. Mid-bodied, it brings in vibrant red berry flavors, and rather unusual but pleasant raspberry notes. Good overall acidity and balance but not a whole lot of depth for the appellation. Score :89/100.
Life is Tasty in Business Class
A conclusion !?!
Yes, when travelling aboard the business cabin of an airline that pays attention to its food and wine, the enjoyment of the travel doesn’t start when you land, but while you’re flying!
I was happily surprised, and quietly impressed with the quality of the food served aboard Air France aircraft.
Every dish served (with the exception clearly but explicably of the cheese) appeared to be very tasty, transporting me into a voyage of flavors and sensations.
I live in France, so I eat well at home and out in general, still every course was an enjoyable experience, and felt like a new experience to me, from savoring tasty dishes up in the air!
The onboard wine list also delivered. All the wines seem to be selected to match the 90/100-point mark which is where you start to get seriously tasty and characterful wines.
Here again, I was surprised by the consistency with which for every wine I tasted, I ended up pretty much scoring between 89 and 91 points, including all the wines I reviewed in the lounge (see below, having in mind that lounge wines are or were also served aboard Air France’s Business Class).
Clearly Paolo Basso (2013 Best Sommelier in the World), and Thierry Desseauve & Michel Bettane (famous critiques in France), without being able to select among the very top wines in the world (those would be 95+ points), make a point in selecting wines not only with concentration and depth, but also personality.
The fact that you can choose between two rather distinct styles of French of both whites and reds probably allows to satisfy most palates, or to discover different wines, and to have variety if you’re sticking to one color across the whole meal.
Of course I regretted that there was only one Champagne to choose from, unlike at the lounge (see below). But hey! One cannot complain with Taittinger Champagne.
Well done Air France !!
Prior to embarking, I stopped by at the Business Lounge at Paris Orly Airport to taste other wines. At Air France airport lounges (there’s one at every major airport AF flies to) are offered wines that are either currently offered in the business cabin, or most-often, wines that were previously served in aircrafts.
So frequent flyers don’t end up always tasting the same wines, the onboard wine list is indeed regularly changed.
Find below reviews of the wines I tasted in the lounge.
Paris’ Orly Airport AF Lounge
The Orly Lounge offers a selection of:
2009 Palmer & Co Vintage
Score: 92/100 pts. With a fine nutty nose, this vintage Champagne has delicate floral and citrusy aromas. Finesse of elegant fruit, and depth to the nose from leesy briochy notes. Fine bubbles and smooth oily texture with silky phenolics. The flavors are also an elegant balance between powerful nutty flavors and fruity tones of lemon and green apple. Dry and mineral to the finish brings a nice balance and enjoyable contrast to the very round and smooth mid-palate.
— Julien Miquel #Wine (@JMiquelWine) May 8, 2017
N.V. Billecart-Salmon Brut
Score: 90/100 pts. We know the elegance and refinement of the Non-Vintage cuvée by Billecart-Salmon. It’s vibrant and fruity to smell at, with zesty grapefruit aromas while the palate delights with smoothness and fine bubbles. A world of lime and lemon flavors, combined with sweeter yet just as elegant notes of pomegranate. The still zesty finish brings in vanilla and sweet hazelnut flavors together with a crisp mineral acidity.
Although I only had time to taste two of them below before embarking 🙁
2014 Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé
Score: 90/100 pts. Nice smoky with notes of gooseberry to the nose, the palate is dry and crisp with good acidity, quite mineral, but more importantly an oily texture and rather rich body gives it an opulent sensation. Smooth and oily with sweet tropical fruit characters, this Pouilly-Fuissé is oriented on the fruity side of the grape variety, although the typical smoky and a touch of grassiness are there to the finish.
2014 William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis
Score: 89/100 Pts. A floral and rather restrained, mineral expression of the Chardonnay grape, this Chablis wine brings delicate floral notes of lily and daisy, as well as some fine grassiness in a medium-to-light body for a Chardonnay. We’re looking at a crisp, refreshing mineral expression that will benefit from aging, developing more complexity and should result very enjoyable in 3 to 8 years. A little young now but with great potential.
2014 Les Valentines Le Caprice de Clemence Rosé, Cotes de Provence
Score : 90/100 Pts. An elegant salmon color, on the pink side of the salmon color, with a medium color intensity, a little pale in a typical Provence style, but so pale. The nose broadcasts fine acidic red berry notes, with touches of peppery spices and honey. The palate is a literal explosion of flavors, it’s opulent, oily with a burst of fruit and flowers on your palate. The vibrant citrus notes, lemon and lime, as well as zesty red berries. A very lively rosé, both dry and crisp, but also opulently fruity, resulting in an enjoyable balance.
2012 Domaine Saint André de Figuières ‘Condifentielle’ Rosé, Cotes de Provence, La Londe
Score : 91/100 Pts. It is quite surprising to see a 2012 vintage rosé served in a lounge where you’d expect to have wines that are simple to approach and understand. So, you’d expect to find more youthful rosés than evolved ones in a business airport area. This made me very curious to taste this wine, especially as it comes in a rather unique quite pale salmon orange color. The nose confirms the wine has gone through some evolution. It is mainly spicy and nutty, like a walnut-scented curry, rather than being fruity. There are lifted floral notes though, so it still smells light and elegant. The palate is dry, crisp and mineral but well balanced by a round body kicking in on the mid-palate. Flavors are also predominantly spicy and nutty, but again floral and fruity notes of pomegranate allow it to feel fresh overall. Delightful sweet-sour grassy notes to the finish provided by elegant phenolics give a salivating feel.
A surprising choice for an airline’s lounge, one that some would think rather risky as some visitors may not understand the sophistication in this 5 year-old rosé. Tasting the wine though, my doubts dissipated. Yes this is a ‘different’ style of rosé, one we’re not used to see and taste very often. Yet it is smooth and fruity, with signs of evolution that have made it better instead of making it taste tired.
Air France therefore has brought here both an approachable and rare rosé-tasting experience to its customers showing they not only care about satisfying their customers with good wines, they also want to surprise them and provide unique opportunities to taste something unusual… but good 😊
2011 Rollan de By Médoc Cru Bourgeois
— Julien Miquel #Wine (@JMiquelWine) May 8, 2017
Score : 91+/100 Pts. This Médoc smells ripe, filled with dark red berry notes of blackberry and dark cherry. Its aromatic profile is also rather oaky, a wealth of vanilla and spicy clove. The palate brings a powerful burst of complex flavors: from fresh dark very fruit, to ashes and leather, through oaky hazelnut and nutmeg. This is the expression of a vintage where the fruit seems to have reached great levels of maturity, bringing upfront opulence. The 6 years of ageing in this wine though, have mellowed the fruit, tempered the fervor of the oak, and brought in much spicy and ashy complexity, for a whole that is highly balanced and deep. A wine that brings in everything we love about a good Médoc, a dry, elegant and sophisticated red, but in a ripe fruity and oaky expression.
Of course there is food to go with the wines at Air France Business Lounge, but I have to admit that unlike most visitors, I focused primarily on the wine list.
Like in the cabin, the lounge selection was consistently good, tasty, and more importantly: interesting, with the inclusion not only of classic French styles but also some more unusual bottles like the 2009 vintage Champagne or 2012 Provence rosé.